#158: Tattenham Corner 07/02/2023

Tattenham Corner Station

Today’s station is a far cry from the one that opened on the 4th of June 1901. It then had seven platforms, but now it’s reduced to just three, with fashionable houses built where the other platforms once stood.

The station is the nearest to Epsom Downs Racecourse, and I hadn’t appreciated how close and easy it was to get to the racecourse. Inevitably, the station will be busier than today, but at off-peak times, the shuttle service from London Bridge Station, operated by Southern Rail, departs twice an hour from platform two. So there’s a ten-minute wait at the station between the train arriving and returning. 

The station is also known as the station where Queen Elizabeth II arrived on the Royal Train as she attended the Derby. 

The station closed in September 1914 following the outbreak of World War I, but occasional race special services ran between 1920 and the station reopening in 1928. Southern Rail uses Class 377 Electrostar electric multiple-unit trains to and from the station. On departure from London Bridge Station, they are either eight or ten carriages long. But on arrival at Purley, travelling towards Tattenham Corner, the train splits, with the forward half travelling to Caterham. And again, on the return journey, the two services are recoupled at Purley to make their onward journey back to London Bridge.

The ticket office overlooks platform three, and I start a conversation with the ticket man as it’s quiet. I commented on the book and DVD library in the waiting room, and he explained that customers borrow whatever takes their fancy. There’s no charge, though donations to the station’s chosen charity are accepted. Each station along the line has its chosen charity, and Tattenham Corner’s charity is the Royal Marsden Hospital

We also spoke about the lack of racegoers since Covid hit, and although visitor numbers are starting to return, the car park toilets are locked due to repeated vandalism. They are accessible by a key code, which he doesn’t share, but he took delight in showing me the refurbished block. These are under separate lock and key inside the main building and cost £25k to renovate pre-pandemic. Because of low visitor numbers, they have yet to be used by the public, but they certainly keep up the racing theme.

Tattenham Corner

Named after the famous racecourse corner, the area to the east of the racecourse is mainly residential. Although buildings didn’t start to materialise until after the railway arrived, and more abundantly after World War II.

The image above is of the Tattenham Corner curve in the foreground as it bends, almost at right angles, before reaching the five-furlong straight to the finishing posts. In the foreground is one of the City of London’s boundary markers erected in the 1800s to denote when additional coal tax/duty was due. I’ve seen these before (see my Watford Junction blog), and you can read more about the coal tax posts here.

There’s a curious dichotomy as to which local government authority residents live in, with some public dismay at how residents were treated. This article by the Tattenham & Preston Residents Association describes this best. You’re either in Epsom and Ewell Borough Council or Reigate and Banstead Borough Council. Their website also suggests how the name Tattenham originated, with an early reference in a 1332 tax bill for Roger de Totenham of the ‘Township of Thadeworth, Preston & Bergh’.

There’s a small shopping parade and library adjacent to the station. The buildings and layout are architecturally very much in the familiar pre/post World War II style seen around London. One shop made me stop and look a little closer. Partly because of its front design, and partly because of the short notice – Closed today due to robbery. I hope The Reptile Barn & Aquatics shop has recovered from the ordeal. 

Epsom Downs Racecourse 

I’d never been to this part of London/Surrey before, so I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve seen horse racing on TV, but easy access to the racecourse is what makes it one of the most popular and well-attended racing events on the racing calendar. Besides paying to get into the stands and enclosures, the course is open to the public, and because of this, it can attract over 130,000 spectators.

The course is a mere 150 metres from the station, and on most days, you can see horses training along the racecourse until midday. After this time, the surrounding land is awash with ramblers and dog walkers, although signs warn you to be on the lookout for and give way to horses. 

It was a glorious sunny day, almost summer-like, as I spotted the six-furlong mark buried in the ground where I stood admiring the pristine white lines of the racing rails. I didn’t see any horses on my visit, though.

Racing began in 1661, and by the 1770s, there were two annual events, the Derby and Oaks. Today’s course is a mile and a half long and ‘U’ shaped, but the original was a five-furlong downhill sprint. There’s a helpful introduction to the course’s history on the British Racecourses website.

Tattenham Corner, seen at the top of the course in the picture above, was added to the course in 1780. It was a severe curve, modified slightly in 1834 following several racing incidents. Nevertheless, it remains a particular challenge for horses and riders alike. Racing takes place during what’s known as the ‘flat season’, but there’s nothing flat about this course as it undulates with an incline of 40 metres from the starting gates to the first corner. It then runs downhill around Tattenham Corner and to the finishing line, with a slight rise at the end.

Over the years, Grandstand stadiums have been built and rebuilt, but there are three distinct buildings today. Two are clearly for the masses, and one, The Prince’s Stand, is a historical reference as it was the first permanent building on the Downs. It stands in isolation, next to the main stands, and was the original Royal enclosure. It was rebuilt in 1879, previously known as the Regency Stand and used by the Prince of Wales, later to become King George IV. When racing was suspended during World War II, it was used as the officer’s mess as troops were camped nearby, and as a mark of its historical significance, it was extensively refurbished in 1999. My thanks to Michael Church Racing Books for some of this information.

The two newest stands, seen below from the public land at the centre of the course, are the Queen Elizabeth II Stand on the left, and The Duchess Stand, which opened in 2009, on the right. I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like to be amongst the racegoers on a race day. But even an empty racecourse is a pretty impressive spectacle. Credit must go to The Jockey Club, who own the racecourse, and for letting me (unwittingly) roam across the turf.

Public Right of Way

I’ve already mentioned that the land surrounding the racecourse is public as it forms part of the North Downs. So understandably, there are public rights of way. Nevertheless, access to some areas is controlled to protect and safeguard the integrity of the land, and this sign amused me as I wondered whether the crow (I think) was the said conservator. It was, however, unfazed by my attention as I gradually got closer until only a couple of feet away as I took a series of photos, thinking my next step would see it fly away. It didn’t.

Look closely. This crossing at the top of the five-furlong mark is for horses, as Tattenham Corner Stables are right behind me. The stables are the home of the successful Mark Pattinson Racing, one of the many stable owners and trainers in the vicinity.

And if you ever fancy a cuppa after a long stroll around the course, why not stop at The Downs Lunch Box? It was recommended to me as I walked around the Downs, and popular as it was busy as I walked past with those buying refreshments or as a watering hole for canine friends.

Picture of the Day – Ann and Peter

Here are Ann and Peter, a couple of ramblers, walking across the Downs and exploring the countryside. Peter, with his binoculars, and Ann was trying out her new monocular.

I saw their silhouette against the skyline as I walked across the Downs, and I envisaged the scene would make a great photo, almost a study of life. They were conversing with each other as they stayed in the same place. I approached them and chatted for a while before asking if they’d allow me to return down the hill and photograph them.

Peter is a lifelong Brentwood FC fan, proudly wearing their woolly hat and badge sewn onto his jacket. He shared childhood moments of travelling from the area with his father to the club, enjoying a Saturday outing, and being brought to the Downs to see the races. 

They were both studying a smoke formation in the hazy distance, trying to determine what was causing it and where it was, and I left them to it as I walked back down the hill to find a suitable spot to capture their silhouettes. 

I took several shots as I crouched down low to get the rocky footpath leading up to where they stood in view. Some in colour, but I determined a black and white image would work best as the sky was so rich that it created a perfect background against which Ann and Peter stood. It’s a wide-angle shot to help showcase Ann and Peter in their surroundings and a high aperture setting to get everything in focus. The early afternoon sun highlights the rocky path wonderfully.

  • Location: Epsom Downs
  • Date/Time: Tuesday 7th February 2023, 1.32 pm
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture -f/22; Shutter Speed – 1/100; Focal Length –  18mm; Film Speed – ISO100

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